Accident Society: Fiction, Collectivity, and the Production by Jason Puskar

By Jason Puskar

This booklet argues that language and literature actively produced likelihood within the past due 19th and early 20th centuries by way of categorizing accidents and losses as blameless of layout. vehicle collisions and occupational accidents grew to become "car injuries" and "industrial accidents." in the course of the post-Civil struggle interval of racial, ethnic, and class-based hostility, likelihood used to be an summary enemy opposed to which society could unite. via generating likelihood, novels by means of William Dean Howells, Stephen Crane, Anna Katharine eco-friendly, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, and James Cain documented and helped determine new modes of collective interdependence. likelihood this is attached now not with the aggressive individualism of the Gilded Age, yet with very important innovative and social democratic reforms, together with advancements in assurance, which had lengthy hired twist of fate narratives to form its personal "mutual society." Accident Society unearths the level to which American collectivity has depended—and keeps to depend—on the literary construction of chance.

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In a great deal of nineteenth-century fiction, chance functions as the invisible hand of the deity. Even though Charles Dickens’s outrageous social coincidences may reflect the unpredictability of modern  The Insurance of the Real social systems, they also have centripetal and integrative tendencies that suggest higher levels of design. When, in Oliver Twist (1861), the orphan’s benefactor turns out to be closely connected to his lost relatives, the reunion of families and friends acts as a thematic counterpart to the formal integration of multiple plots, which the novel’s conclusion braids together.

45 James Kloppenberg has characterized a wide range of turn-of-thecentury progressive reforms as a synthesis of pragmatism’s relativistic and experiential theory of knowledge with the social democratic politics behind late nineteenth-century European welfare policies. ”46 Social commitment met the social constitution of truth halfway, and the resulting reform efforts proved a successful means of limiting, without eliminating, some of the most egregious suffering of turn-of-the-century life. My point here is simply that chance functions as one pivotal term connecting pragmatism and social democracy.

By piling up accidents just as the novel searches for closure, Howells in fact undermines his own realist pretense to observe chance and makes it all the more clear that he is producing chance instead. After all, these accidents are not really preventing the novel from closing; they are in fact facilitating its closure. The accident, final and conclusive, might even be the event that has to happen before the novel can allow itself to terminate, like a marriage at the end of a comedy or a death at the end of a tragedy.

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